Paracas (El Chaco)
The Paracas peninsula’s main village, El Chaco – often referred to erroneously as ‘Paracas’ – is the primary embarkation point for trips to Islas Ballestas and the Reserva Nacional de Paracas. New condos and luxury hotels are found north and south of the village proper. It's a fun place with a lively traveler scene.
Clinging to the northern limits of the world’s driest desert, Moquegua defies near zero annual rainfall by supporting a thriving wine industry and a valley full of green fields replete with grazing cows that look like they might have been peeled off the surface of northern France (it’s the rivers, you know).
The small town of Lunahuaná rises like a slice of desert romance above the foggy and grubby coastal strip south of Lima. Reached via a winding 38km road that tracks east from the noisy settlement of Cañete, it appears almost magically, a thin strip of broccoli green amid the dusty desert that gleams with a touch of Middle Eastern promise.
After leaving Chala in the dust, the Panamericana Sur heads south for 220km, clinging tortuously to sand dunes dropping down to the sea, until it reaches positively urban Camaná. This coastal city has long been a summer resort popular with arequipeños (inhabitants of Arequipa) who flock to its beaches, about 5km from the center.
Materializing out of the fog and grime that hangs over Lima’s southern suburbs, Pucusana marks the first genuinely worthwhile stop on the coast. Superficially, it’s a typical Peruvian fishing village: clamorous, a little grubby and packed with literally hundreds of wooden boats bobbing around in its protected harbor. But there’s an innate soulfulness here too.
Imagine…. It’s 6pm and you’re sitting atop a giant wind-sculpted sand dune watching the sun set psychedelically over a landscape of golden yellows and rusty reds. Two hundred meters below you lies a dreamy desert lagoon ringed by exotic palm trees, and furnished with a clutch of rustic yet suitably elegant hotels.
Cañete & Cerro Azul
The full name of this small market town and transport nexus, about 145km south of Lima, is San Vicente de Cañete. Most Peruvian holidaymakers head north of town to Cerro Azul, a beach that’s popular with experienced surfers. It’s a 15-minute walk west of Km 131 on Panamericana Sur, about 15km north of town.